Recent published work and photography processes

It’s been a busy six months or so for me with regards to having work published.

My main work has been the continuous analysis of the Russian navy to assist the editor of Fighting Ships, Stephen Saunders, to keep the data in the yearbook as accurate and up to date as possible. This information is also used in the on-line version of the yearbook. The current 2016/2017 edition is now available with plenty of my Russian navy data included, along with photos that I’ve taken. jfs2016_001

As you know I stopped selling the yearbooks last year (apart from a large sale at the beginning of this year) and since then IHS have added older titles to their online store. Though not as cheap as I was able to get them, it may be worth taking a look to see if there’s any titles you may need in your collection. Here’s the link to the Fighting Ships page in the store.

As with all things involved with data analysis, looking into one thing generally off-shoots into another. From the OSINT work that I generally do for Fighting Ships, I normally have to take notes and data which would also fit into some of the other yearbooks. Some of this data has been sent to the various editors of the C4ISR yearbooks, which I hope will also be included in future publications. And there’s also photographs of radars, weapons and other systems that I’ve been taking over the last few years that hopefully will also be of use.

jir_july_001 jir_aug_001








The OSINT work also brought me to the attention of one of the IHS magazines, Jane’s Intelligence Review. Since May I have worked on three articles for this magazine, two in conjunction with other writers, and one on my own. I am currently working on two more pieces for them, but at this time I can’t divulge on the subject matter. jir_sep_001

The work has been very interesting indeed, and has brought me a couple of new acquaintances and friends from it. I’m hoping that that I can carry on with other articles for them once the two I’m working on now are complete. jir_aug_002

Another magazine by IHS, Jane’s Navy International, has used a couple of my photos in recent months with hopefully more to follow. The magazines can be subscribed to from the IHS magazine online store.

It’s good work editing images for magazines, but its certainly a lot harder than it used to be – in general for less money than what you used to receive. The advent of digital photography has reduced the prices one gets for inclusion in magazines, mainly due to the fact that so many people now do it and so the editors have a plethora of images available to them. The silly thing is that in the old days you used to only take the photo, normally on slide film (Kodachrome 64), with no further editing by yourself (unless you happened to process the images in your own darkroom – I didn’t!). You’d send away the film to Kodak who would process it for you, and then you’d check over the slides after they’d been returned, deciding on which ones to send away. The only real work needed was to annotate the slide with basic information, and include a letter with further notes and where to post the cheque payment if used. Of course, you’d never see the slide again, and so if you wanted to have a copy for yourself then you’d need to take two photos – it was costly business using slide hence the payments you received being greater than they are now for far less work (one trip to the USA cost me more in Kodachrome 64 than it did in flights!!).

These days, the full photo process takes much longer.

Take the recent Joint Warrior (JW) exercise that I photographed. For this exercise I set aside two days for the actual photography. I then needed a further four days to carry out the actual editing of the photos for various publications! With current copyright laws, and the fact that most publishers are aware that photographers send away the very same image for inclusion in different magazines, the publishers now insist on exclusivity with an image (including publication online). Because of this, as a photographer you have to think ahead about who you are taking photos for. With JW I was thinking of three main possible targets – Fighting Ships, Jane’s Navy International and Warships IFR. As well as these I also had to think about the various other yearbooks by IHS (C4ISR and Weapons). So, if one ship comes along I need to take at least three images of it, maybe milliseconds apart, to cover the three main publications. Multiply that by a few hundred and you can see that there is a lot of images to go through once back home.

Back home then, I now need to process the images myself – no longer do they go away to Kodak for initial processing, and the publication no longer fine tunes the image for what ever use they may have. You need to trim it, get the exposure and colours right and make sure it’s sharp. Not only do you need to edit each image, you also have to include additional information for each one. This needs to be a title, your name, copyrights, what the subject is, when and where you took it and any other information you may think is needed for the publisher. With over 400 photos to go through for this JW it took a lot of time to carry out the whole process – 4 days as I’ve already said. From the 400 or more images that I took, I sent away around 70. How many of those will finally end up being published is unknown but I hope that it is around half of them.

Saying all that, it really is good fun and I still enjoy seeing my photos in any publication, be it book or magazine. I recently bought a new gadget for my GoPro, a time-lapse timer that moves the camera, and I decided to test it out whilst editing one of the images taken at Joint Warrior. The result of that test is below:


wifr_001 Talking of having things published in Warships IFR, I have actually had quite a good amount put into print for this magazine recently. And I believe there is to be a good spread in the December edition with images taken from the Joint Warrior exercise that I have mentioned above. I also hope to start writing the occasional piece for the magazine.

I’ll keep you informed.

Propliner is back

Around 11 months ago I reported the sad end of Propliner magazine in my article “End of an era”.

I’m very pleased to say that due to requests to the editor that Propliner be kept in some form or other, he has decided to try out whether it could succeed in an annual format.

In his words “Within days of announcing my decision to suspend publication of Propliner as a quarterly journal, I became aware of the enormous sentiment surrounding the magazine, and that there were a large number of disappointed readers.”

He continues ” Having remained in touch with many of the regular contributors and having canvassed their opinions, I have decided to go ahead and publish a Propliner Annual in April 2016″.ProplinerAd

A brief outline of what is intended in the first (and hopefully not last annual) was also given – 96 pages full of features and photographs, as well as news on the past years events. Further information is on the advert to the right.

Amazingly, the annual is still going to be priced very reasonably indeed. For those in the UK, it is to be priced at £11 including delivery, with Europe at £13. The rest of the World is still only £15 for air mail delivery.

The target publication date is April 17th and orders can be placed at the Propliner website

PlaneBaseNG Update

Another bit of aviation news is a new update to the PlaneBaseNG database software. I ran a review of the database just over a year ago if you’d like to look back at what I wrote. Otherwise, head over to the website for more information, screenshots etc. PBlogo

If you’re looking for an aviation database then this is definitely the one to have.

Fred T. Jane

Today, the 8th March 2016, marks the centenary of the death of Fred T. Jane, the founder of Jane’s Fighting Ships and all the off-shoots of products that now exist under his name. He was 50 years old.

Fred was discovered on the morning of the 8th March 1916 “dead in bed at his residence in Clarence Parade [Portsmouth]” and “had been attended during the past week or so by Dr Cole-Baker on account of an attack of influenza, and had also complained of heart trouble, but his sudden death came as a great shock”.

FTJ_002He lived quite an amazing life during those 50 years, too much for me to cover here, but luckily a book was written about him by Richard Brooks, published in 1997. The book is still available today, easily found on Amazon for instance, and is titled Fred T. Jane – An eccentric Visionary (From Ironclad Ships To 21st Century Information Solutions) – and it is a great read.

Not only did Fred invent Fighting Ships and All the Worlds Aircraft, he was one of the first people to have a motor car in the UK (including racing them), he was one of the first private pilots (though not very good going by all the crashes he had), he was a member of Parliament, he was a writer of Science Fiction (at the same time as H.G. Wells was writing on the very same subjects) and a very successful artist. It was the artistry and writing that got him into creating Fighting Ships, even though there were other successful books in existence at that time covering the same subject matter. It was his line drawings and silhouettes that made Fighting Ships stand out from the rest, and it is why the books are still in existence to this day whilst the others have dwindled into the past.

As well as writing and illustrating his own Science Fiction, he created artwork for other writers, including this for the book "Olga Romanoff" by George Griffith in 1893.

As well as writing and illustrating his own Science Fiction, he created artwork for other writers, including this for the book Olga Romanoff by George Griffith in 1893.

Taken from the 1932 edition of "Fighting Ships", the earliest in my collection.

Taken from the 1932 edition of Fighting Ships, the earliest in my collection.

The early Fighting Ships books, the first of which was printed in 1898, went into extraordinary detail. These included the same details as is found in todays editions – weapons, crew numbers, engine types, speed etc., but also down to such details of the thickness of hulls in the various areas of each ship. The details on guns and armoured hulls were given comparative identifiers to show that a certain type of gun was capable of piercing a certain type of armoured hull. It was from this that the use of the books became manuals in “WarGames”.

Four metres of "Fighting Ships". Nearly every edition from 1946 to 1995, plus the earliest I have from 1932

Four metres of Fighting Ships. Nearly every edition from 1946 to 1995, plus the earliest I have from 1932

Now, these WarGamers weren’t just “nerds” sitting around at home, these were Naval Officers who used the information for training and strategy building, although the game was available to the public too. Prices at the time ranged from 4 guineas to £40 (around £4,400 in todays money), though the top end product “contained practically all the warships in the world” and was used primarily by various navies, including the Japanese Navy. The “games” came with model ships as part of the boxed set.

The early editions were in Landscape format, with different "standards" available - the "top end" versions were leather bound.

The early editions were in Landscape format, with different “standards” available – the “top end” versions were leather bound.

Though the Royal Navy was very slow in taking up the game, the Russian Navy were extremely interested in it and invited Fred to St. Petersburg in 1899 where he met Tsar Nicholas II. Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich even wrote the preface to the 1899 edition of Fighting Ships, the Duke being the Tsars brother-in-law. Fighting Ships isn’t even officially sold to anyone in Russia anymore.

"The British Battle Fleet" first edition from 1912

The British Battle Fleet first edition from 1912

Thanks to this trip, Fred was able to publish an off-shoot book titled The Imperial Russian Navy which led further to The British Battle Fleet – a book I have in my possession in its first edition format. It is thought that to this day, no one else outside of Russia has had such access to their fleets. Fred became good friends with members of both the Russian and Japanese Navies, something that caused him grief later on during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 where he lost friends on both sides.

Fred died on his own, though he had an estranged wife and a daughter, but his legacy still lives on today. Ironically, the house he died in was bombed by the Germans in the Second World War, but flats that were built there in its place has a plaque commemorating his name. FS15-16

I’m very proud to have had my photographs printed in recent editions of Fighting Ships and I enjoy very much the research I do on the Russian Navy that I then forward on to the yearbooks current editor, Commodore Stephen Saunders RN. He is just the eighth editor in the 118 years of publication.

For more information on Fred T. Jane, please look up the previously mentioned book by Richard Brooks – you won’t be disappointed.

TitanSDR Pro demonstration

After receiving quite a few requests on information about the Enablia TitanSDR and it’s capabilities, I decided it would be good a good idea to create a demonstration video that would hopefully show just how good an SDR it is. The video is at the end of this blog.

I think that a lot of people can’t understand just why the two versions are the price they are, especially when it seems that a new dongle SDR is being evolved every day at a ridiculously cheap price. Yes, they are expensive but when you compare the price of these SDR’s to a top end desktop receiver, such as the Icom IC-R8500 for example, then it is fairly comparable.

But you must consider the fact that the Titan is really more than one receiver. The Pro version is 40 receivers, the standard is eight. You can’t record independently using the Icom, you need some additional software or a digital voice recorder plugged in to the receiver; and even then you can only record the one frequency – the Pro can record 40 frequencies, the standard can record eight.

The TitanSDR Pro can monitor up to 40 frequencies at the same time. Here, 10 frequencies are being monitored, mainly Oceanic ones.

The TitanSDR Pro can monitor up to 40 frequencies at the same time. Here, 10 frequencies are being monitored, mainly Oceanic ones.

Then, you can’t really record any bandwidth to play back using the Icom, but both versions of the Titan can record up to three separate bandwidths. These can then be played back, either through the SDR itself, or on another PC using the supplied USB dongle that carries a second version of the software – and if you did this you could be listening to, or recording, further frequencies or bandwidths. And all these separate bandwidth recordings can, of course, be played back multiple times, with multiple recordings being made within them; or data can be decoded; or signals analysed – what ever you require from an SDR.

This image shows the Titan monitoring 12 frequencies, 6 of which are decoding ALE using PC-ALE. This can take place in the background, while listening to the other frequencies on the SDR.

This image shows the Titan monitoring 12 frequencies, 6 of which are decoding ALE using PC-ALE. This can take place in the background, while listening to the other frequencies on the SDR.

But, of course, this is just standard for any SDR isn’t it?? But is it?? Can you think of another SDR that has the capability to monitor/record 40 frequencies at once? I can’t.

The nearest SDR I found to the Titan in quality of not only recording capabilities but in quality of filters etc. meant that I would need to buy around 13 SDR’s of this model and spend over €30,000. Yet, just one of this model costs pretty much the same price as the Titan. Now, with that knowledge, the price of the TitanSDR’s really doesn’t seem that bad after all.

Don’t forget, the TitanSDR is a Military spec. SDR, designed originally for agencies to monitor multiple frequencies for analysis and data collecting. It already has top specifications but Enablia are still willing to listen to the users and add requested features if they can. They have already done this with quite a few ideas that myself and other users have suggested.

You'd think that the Titan would be a CPU guzzler wouldn't you? Well it isn't. Here the SDR is running 31 frequencies, multiple decodings using MultiPSK, and PC-ALE. The CPU is running at only 27%, and that was it's max reading.

You’d think that the Titan would be a CPU guzzler wouldn’t you? Well it isn’t. Here the SDR is running 31 frequencies, whilst making multiple decodings using MultiPSK and PC-ALE. The CPU is running at only 27%, and that was it’s max reading.



I promised the owners of PlaneBaseNG that I’d add something about their aviation database to my blog about a year and a half ago, but due to personal issues and renovating my house I never got round to it. As it is though, I’m glad I didn’t because the database has changed so much since then I’d have had to have done blog updates practically every month since.

But, as it’s nearing the two year anniversary of it’s conception I thought now would be the right time. PBlogo

So what is PlaneBaseNG? In the words of its owners “PlaneBaseNG is a fully featured product that manages all your aircraft sighting logging and reporting needs” and I’m not going to say otherwise. It is a great aircraft database, much better than any others around at the moment. It is simple to use, the search features are great and it has the easiest logging features I’ve seen. And most importantly it’s free – though you can donate money to help with its development if you wish, it’s totally optional.

PlaneBaseNG (or PB from now on) was developed after a few people got fed up with other databases out there. In particular, there was one that hadn’t changed for quite some time. I used this (unnamed) database and can vouch that it was good at first but very quickly went out of date in its development and style. Not only that, despite saying they would listen to their customers and add features where possible, this just never happened. In my opinion, though not proven, I think that the owners of the (unnamed) database used the funds from the subscribers to travel the world planespotting. The initial purchase wasn’t cheap (currently £130), and there were yearly subscription fees for the weekly updates – I mean, they even charged the poor data inputters the yearly subscription fees despite having to spend hours updating the data. Yep, I know this because I was a data inputter for them for a (very) short while. Handily enough all the fixed “books” for trips, created from search features, happened to be of the favourite trip locations of the owners. Requests for user created “books” fell on deaf ears.

I soon realised they weren’t for listening to anyone when I gave them some advice on making the data input easier. There were countless errors in Operator names, or should I say countless different versions of names for the same Operator – Delta Airlines/Delta Air Lines etc. This was because each editor had a crib sheet instead of having a much more useful sub-database containing the definitive list of Operators that could be chosen from a drop down list. It was easy to implement but it wasn’t and I got frustrated – as a user, searches were a nightmare as the data was quite often wrong. So I left editing but carried on with the database as there were no other options out there – except creating your own (which I had done and it was much better than this (unnamed) database, but as a single data-inputter going through Aviation Letter each month was very time consuming and so I had had to give up). planebase

I was pleased to hear, about two years ago, that there was a new database coming out; and I was lucky enough to be one of the early users as I knew a few of the guys involved, some of which had also left the other database. PB changed very quickly in the early days, with almost daily updates to the actual software and features. This has slowed down now but that is because it is features packed, and I don’t know if there’s anything else PB can produce or think of that’s needed. Just some of the features included are:
Search facilities for Reg, Manufacturer, Type, Operator, Mode-S hexcodes, SelCal, Base, ICAO Operator codes
Multiple User creatable Reports
Wordbook (to create a handy needlist when travelling)
Adding photos to records
Flight logs

And much more – full information of all the features are on their website and in the extensive manual (something else the (unnamed) database fell short with, being four to five years out of date when I last saw it).

The database isn’t just for “spotters”, it can be used by anyone that is interested in aviation. For instance the SelCal search is useful to those that listen to HF regularly and need to check on what they’ve possibly heard. The same goes for checking details on Operators or Squadron details – the searches are endless really. Updates to the database occur twice a week, with a full update on a Tuesday and an additional Airliner/Execs update on Fridays. The database itself contains well over a million entries in categories of Airliners, Executive Jets and Propliners, Military (fighter/transports/Helis etc), Helicopters, Russians and GA types – you name it, they’re in there – even gliders. And if there’s something that’s not in there, a quick email and I’m sure it wouldn’t be long before it was.

pblinkNow on to PB’s sidekick – PBLink. This feature is for those that use either SBS or PlanePlotter virtual radars. It is a separate download that adds a background link to PB so that when you get an unknown Hexcode appearing on your radar a check is made with the main database and the details filled out in the SQB file for the radar. Before hand I had to use the Gatwick Aviation Societies (GAS) data, but that required access to the internet. The great thing about PBLink is that an on-line connection isn’t needed, making it possible to go fully mobile with your SBS. I tried it out last year at LAX, from the back of my hire-car and it worked perfectly, along with being able to log what I saw. There’s even the possibility to download a fully populated SQB file (overwriting your current one) which means you don’t need PB installed at all. I don’t bother with that as there’s no real point if you use PB as well (plus I use specific flags and file names for these which would get wiped out I think). As it’s linked to your database it also shows whether you’ve seen the aircraft before and if so, where and when.

Again, there’s plenty more details on the website and in the PBLink manual. It’s pointless me saying anymore, I’d only repeat what is in it and probably in not as much detail.

pbliteFinally, the last manifestation of PB is PBLite. This is designed for Windows based tablets and is an almost exact copy of the full PB database. One thing that’s great about this software is that if you use the full version on your PC or laptop, you can copy across your logs/sightings to the tablet. And just to add, this also possible if you have a desktop and a laptop – your loggings can be copied between the two as and when.

I like PlaneBaseNG a lot, I use it daily and not just for the spotting side of things. I use it for radio monitoring, and I use it to confirm information when I’m writing my blogs and magazine articles. With over 1000 users already, I’m obviously not the only one that thinks it is a great product.

All I’ll say is, go and take a look at the website for PlaneBaseNG and you’ll see many more features – some I haven’t even tried yet. Meanwhile, over at the (unnamed) database, despite a nice new glitzy website – it’s still the same old database by the look of the screenshots.

Monitoring NATO “Joint Warrior” Exercises

***This blog now contains some information regarding the current Joint Warrior 151 exercise***

Most of November I was away on holiday to the USA which is why there was a lack of a blog last month. This month I’m going to release one of my articles that was published in the July edition of The Spectrum Monitor. tsmcover

As I’ve previously mentioned the magazine is available in digital format, and can be read on all electronic readers. A yearly subscription is $24, which is a bargain bearing in the mind the monthly content produced, totalling over 1200 pages a year.

This version is slightly different to the one published in the magazine as it contains some extra content.

Monitoring NATO “Joint Warrior” Exercises

Twice a year the UK hosts Exercise Joint Warrior(JW), planned by the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff (JTEPS) based at Headquarters Northwood, about 5 miles north of Heathrow Airport. JTEPS is a joint organisation parented by both HQ Air Command & Navy Command (NC HQ).

The Official Mission of the Exercise is to:
Provide a joint, multi-threat environment in which UK, NATO and Allied units and their staffs may undertake collective training and pre-deployment training in tactical formations in preparation for employment in a Combined Joint Task Force

The number of participants is normally quite large, with up to 30 naval vessels, both surface and sub-surface, taking part. The number of aircraft taking part is substantially larger with sometimes up to 100 being involved. These include Maritime Patrol Aircraft(MPA), Fast Jets, Command and Control (C2), Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR), Transport, Air to Air Refuellers and Helicopters

As well as Air and Sea assets, there are Land based Air Defence units along with Paratroops, Army and Marines. The number of personnel involved is in the thousands.

JW normally involves forces from major European countries as well as the USA and Canada. Other countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Brazil have taken part in recent years.

This French Navy Aquitaine Class Destroyer "FS Aquitaine" (D650) is seen arriving at Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde, also known as Faslane. The French are huge users of HF, in particular they use STANAG4258, RTTY and HF-ALE. The STANAG and RTTY is normally encrypted but you can sometimes get callsign information from the messages. They also use USB, especially the Transports, AWACS and Maritime Patrol Aircraft

This French Navy Aquitaine Class Destroyer “FS Aquitaine” (D650) is seen arriving at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, also known as Faslane. The French are huge users of HF, in particular they use STANAG4258, RTTY and HF-ALE. The STANAG and RTTY is normally encrypted but you can sometimes get callsign information from the messages. They also use USB, especially the Transports, AWACS and Maritime Patrol Aircraft

The exercises can cover the whole of the UK, but most of it takes place in Scotland and its surrounding waters. There are certain areas in other parts of the UK that are used, for example the Spadeadam Electronic Warfare Training Range (West of Newcastle, England) and Fast Jet Areas over the North Sea (for Air to Air combat). But it is the limited population of the North West of Scotland, along with quiet air and sea traffic, plus access to both deep and shallow waters, which allows almost total freedom for the participants. There are also numerous weapons ranges some of which include areas designed specifically for Naval Gun Support (NGS) and Close Air Support (CAS) – Cape Wrath on the North Western tip being the main one.

Joint Warrior 141 (JW141) took place between the 31st of March and the 11th of April, 2014. The week prior to the main start of the exercise there was a general build-up of forces as the scenario heads to conflict between fictional countries, starting with Amphibious Forces congregating at West Freugh and Luce Bay off South West Scotland.

"SSN Missouri", a USN Virginia Class SSN, leaving Faslane in 2013.

“SSN Missouri”, a USN Virginia Class SSN, leaving Faslane in 2013.

Meanwhile, the main naval forces from the different participating countries generally arrive at Naval Base Clyde, more commonly known as Faslane. The base is close to Glasgow, and is the home of to the majority of the UK Submarine Fleet, including Vanguard Class SSBNs and Astute Class SSN hunter-killer submarines. It is also the home of the mine countermeasures fleet. Faslane gets regular visitors from various Naval forces throughout the year, a not too uncommon site being USN Virginia Class SSNs that pass through for supplies and crew rest.

JW141 hosted the following countries sea and air elements:

The Netherlands and Belgium also provided Marine forces, as well as the Netherlands and USA providing Forward Air Controllers (FAC).

The UK of course provided the largest amount of participants with numerous ground, Paratroop and Marine regiments, Air Defence and FACs taking part, along with sea and air elements consisting of:

I’m pretty sure there would have been at least one UK Submarine involved though I do not know the details of this. The Astute Class are still in their infancy and so would have been ideally chosen to take part.

Despite my previous statement that it is quiet in Scotland when it comes to sea and air traffic, it isn’t desolate. There is still a large amount of flights into the major cities of Scotland, it is just it is quieter than in Southern England . There are numerous daily warnings sent out to civil aircrews about possible military activity and this works in the other direction too, with the military crews getting briefings on airways and areas to avoid.

Sea warnings aren’t left out either, in particular for the large fishing industry that exists off the West coast of Scotland. For this, JTEPS produces a document that is published on the Government website that provides information on Submarine, Minewarfare, live firing and denial of GPS training for the exercise. This can be a useful document should you be interested in following what is happening during the exercise as it tends to have a program of events and maps.

***I have updated the page to show the document for the current JW151 exercise and it can be found here. There are also daily SUBFACT and GUNFACTS broadcast as part of the NAVTEX warnings

Radio Communications

What JW does bring with all this action is radio communications. In fact, one of the main aims of the exercise is to establish common procedures between forces that are likely to work together for real in a combat area.

All types of communication methods are used, including the old fashioned “flag” and “flashlight Morse code” between ships. In the majority though, it is of course radio that is used to its fullest. And, it is the full spectrum that is used from VLF all the way up to SATCOM, most of which is easily received by monitors around the UK and further when it’s HF that is being used.

As well as voice comms, data takes a large part, especially RTTY, Link 11, Link 16 and STANAG4285. All of this is normally encrypted but if there is a non NATO country taking part then sometimes data is sent in the clear, especially RTTY.

Because of the large expanse of operating areas, HF is used extensively. Over the last few years I’ve built up a record of frequencies used that have been monitored by myself and others also interested in the JW exercises.

A Lockheed Orion CP-140 of the Royal Canadian Air Force, 140116, lines up to depart Lossiemouth during an intense sandstorm in 2013. Just visible in the background is the parking area for the Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPAs) that take part in Joint Warrior. The usual mix includes USN P-3 and RCAF CP-140 Orions, but has included French, German, Norwegian and Brazilian Navy MPAs in recent years

A Lockheed Orion CP-140 of the Royal Canadian Air Force, 140116, lines up to depart Lossiemouth during an intense sandstorm in 2013. Just visible in the background is the parking area for the Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPAs) that take part in Joint Warrior. The usual mix includes USN P-3 and RCAF CP-140 Orions, but has included French, German, Norwegian and Brazilian Navy MPAs in recent years

The Maritime Patrol Aircraft normally operate out of RAF Lossiemouth and arrive a few days before the exercise begins. Once StartEx has been announced there is at least one MPA airborne at any one time until the exercise ends, quite often though there are two airborne. Mission lengths are around 6 hours including transits and they consist of Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). The aircraft are designated a trigraph callsign such as A8X as allocated to the USN P8A of VP-5 on the 2nd of April, and these are changed daily. One thing of note with the NATO MPA element of the exercise is that the aircraft are not allocated their callsigns by the exercise staff but from NATO itself, as they are on call to deal with any real-world scenario that may take place. Should there be any non-NATO MPAs in the exercise then these are allocated their callsigns as normal by JTEPS.

When the aircraft get airborne they normally call Northwood, callsign MKL, on HF with a departure message. This is followed by an on-station message and then hourly sitreps until off-station and then landing. They would also call for any information or if they themselves have something to pass such as enemy sightings. The primary frequency used on HF is 6697kHz. As well as using HF the MPAs will communicate on UHF with any vessels in their operating area, though this well out of range of my location so I don’t normally hear this.

RTTY (or RATT) is the primary method of passing the information, though this quite often seems to fail. It is quite amusing sometimes listening to an MPA set up a RTTY message by voice with MKL, which then fails repeatedly, sometimes taking 15 to 20 minutes of attempts. They then give up and send by voice a 30 second message – I sometimes wonder why they bother, especially when it’s something as basic as a departure message.

I normally set up my Icom IC-R8500 and Winradio Excalibur right at the beginning of the exercise to monitor the HF frequencies, in particular the MKL primary 6697 kHz. Along with this I ensure my Bearcat UBC800XLT is up to date with all the correct VHF/UHF frequencies, and that my Bearcat UBC3500XLT mirrors it for when I’m mobile

Talking of going mobile, my usual routine is to head to the Faslane area to catch the arriving and departing ships. Normally, the ships will arrive on the Thursday and Friday before the start of the full exercise. Due to the large amount of ships involved they are given arrival slot times, much the same as aircraft do at airports. This is so that the local Harbour masters, Police escorts, Tugs and Pilots are not stretched to the limit with everything arriving at once. The ships use the standard Marine VHF Channels to communicate with the Pilots etc (Channels 12, 14, 16 and 73). This is usually quite interesting to listen to, in particular this year with USN participation – for instance USS Cole was very twitchy about pleasure craft in the area, even asking the Police escort to intercept a suspicious vessel heading straight for them. The calm response of “Errrr, that’s your Tug and Pilot” was quite funny. On the Sunday, the reverse takes place with all the ships leaving, this time slightly more grouped in small flotillas.

Arleigh Burke class Destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) about to pass RFA Lyme Bay (L3007) of the UK Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Arleigh Burke class Destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) about to pass RFA Lyme Bay (L3007) of the UK Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Over the weekend, RFA Lyme Bay and RFA Orangeleaf had anchored a few miles short of Faslane at an area near to Cloch Lighthouse (where I based myself). I was able to receive both these ships on UHF frequencies though I was unable to clearly tie-up the callsigns used by the ships. Just before 0700z, numerous coded messages were sent between the callsigns 8DE and 7GO. These continued until 0800z when 8DE calls “Anchors away”. There was the sound of horns across the bay and RFA Lyme Bay moves off, turning a tight 180 degrees to head south. RFA Orangeleaf follows behind. From this I concluded that 8DE was probably Lyme Bay.

When I’m waiting for things to happen, and scanning with the UBC3500XLT, I’m also using the Close-Call facility of the radio for the UHF band to see if I catch anything else. This time it didn’t work, but another monitor in Northern Ireland was a lot luckier and was able to add a few frequencies to the growing list:

There were plenty of calls on these frequencies, but the usual line of sight problem arises with UHF and the ships would quickly disappear out of my range. But it didn’t matter as HF is used extensively because of this very problem for the ships themselves.

Monitoring from the Shack

With the Icom on 6697 kHz and the UBC800XLT scanning the hundreds of VHF/UHF frequencies, I’d use the Excalibur to search through for the ships HF communications. Like the VHF/UHF ones, there are frequencies that are used every year and one’s that aren’t. But once you’ve found the regular ones you can pretty well catch most of the action. Along with a small group of others that also monitor JW we were able to build up a good picture of what was going on.

It became clear quite quickly that 4706 kHz was being used for Ship Air Defence calls. Over the two weeks this task would be carried out by various units, and by all military methods – Land, Sea and Air. The Land element would be carried out by the RAF Air Defence Unit, based at RAF Boulmer (usual callsign HOTSPUR). The Air element would be from a E3 AWACS (though not that often) and the Sea element would be carried out by a ship. By the callsigns used it sounds like the task is split into three during a 24 hour period, with maybe Boulmer doing 2 slots and a ship the other; or whatever the aim of that days scenarios that have been planned by JTEPS.

The calls would look something like this taken from my logs:
J0T this is G1T
New friendly ML500
Position MKQN0105
Hdg 287
New friendly ML500

Update friendly ML500
Pos MKPN5606
Hdg 287
Spd 166kts
C height 19
Update friendly ML500

This is decoded as:
ML500 = allocated track ident by radar operator
MKQN0105 = grid reference
Hdg 287 = Heading 287 degrees
Spd 166kts = speed of track
Strength 1 = number of aircraft in formation
C height 19 = Mode-C radar height

These calls are made very quickly, every 30 seconds to a minute, and actually get quite hard to write down. The training carried out from these calls is very important and not only assist the radar operators but also things like the defence systems on board the ships.

Cobham Aviation Falcon 20 G-FRAW taxies for take-off from RAF Lossiemouth during Joint Warrior 12-2 in 2012. The photo clearly shows all the additional pods these aircraft carry for replicating different aircraft, radars and weaponry

Cobham Aviation Falcon 20 G-FRAW taxies for take-off from RAF Lossiemouth during Joint Warrior 12-2 in 2012. The photo clearly shows all the additional pods these aircraft carry for replicating different aircraft, radars and weaponry

The exercise uses the Civil fleet of Falcon 20 aircraft of Cobham Aviation Services to replicate different aircraft. To do this they use towed targets that can be programmed to have the Radar Cross Section of aircraft such as Sukhoi Su-27or Su-35 Flankers to give the radar operators a true feel of what they would possibly see for real. The pods also replicate missiles as fired by the “enemy” aircraft and can be programmed as such, a “favourite” being Exocet as these have been used in anger against Royal Navy ships, sinking a few in the Falklands Conflict in the early 80’s. The Falcon 20’s can fly very low over the sea up to 300KIAS, and believe me they fly low, I flew in one year’s ago. Other equipment carried can give immediate information of simulated hits or misses by the ships Air Defence weapons, much like ACMI pods (Aircraft Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation) carried by aircraft.

Sometimes the Falcons also fly with Royal Navy Hawk fast jets, operated by 736 Naval Air Squadron. 736NAS used to be known as FRADU (Fleet Requirements and Aircraft Direction Unit) and the task of these Hawks is to simulate low flying missiles against ships. As the Hawks can fly faster than the Falcons this gives a better simulation to the ship’s crew to help them learn how to combat the threat, or at least reduce the possible damage caused should the missile get through. The Hawks can also carry out the same task as the Falcon 20s replicating enemy aircraft.

The Falcon 20s can also carry out other tasks such as Electronic Warfare by jamming the radars and radios and using chaff and flares. They are very capable aircraft and used continually by the UK, not just in exercises such as Joint Warrior.

By far, the best Maritime Air Defence platform currently at sea is the Daring Class Type 45 Destroyer of the Royal Navy. In JW141 it was HMS Dragon of this class that took part. The Daring class destroyers are fitted with a Marconi Type 1046 Air/Surface search radar which functions in the D-band; and a Surveillance/Fire Control E/F-band Type 1045 (Sampson) Multifunction radar made by BAe Systems. These radars combined can give a 400km,/360° coverage, linking in to the Principle Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS) which provides target cueing, anti-jamming, radar de-clutter and other functions necessary to protect itself and any other ships in the fleet. For protection the primary weapon is a Vertical Launch System (VLS) capable of holding 48 missiles in single missile cells. These hold either Aster15 or Aster30 S/A missiles with ranges of 15nm and 30nm respectively, with Aster30 reported to have a range of up 65nm. The VLS is capable of having a mix mode, where any combination of the two missiles can be held, the usual mix being 32 Aster 30s and 16 Aster15s. Future developments of the Aster30 include an anti-Ballistic Missile version with a range far exceeding that currently available, with reports of it having a range of 540nm, with a further version exceeding 1200nm.

© 2014 Tony Roper.No usage permitted without authors permission

Göteborg Class Corvette Sundsvall (K24) of the Swedish Navy in a Joint Warrior exercise from April 2013. Every exercise has different participants from different countries, which allows for greater training and learning of techniques used by the differing Navies of the World

It would take pages to go through everything you can hear on HF during JW. It’s a 24/7 activity as the exercise runs day and night, 7 days a week including weekends. You can normally hear the Gunnery ranges at Cape Wrath as ships take it in turns to simulate attacking shoreline targets, normally given instructions by FACs. There’s general radio chat with resupplies, tasking of ship helicopters, and as previously mentioned, the setting up of RTTY and STANAG4285. Most of the general calls were on 4915.5 kHz which seemed to be the Primary Ship HF frequency. Plenty of callsigns were heard every day, though in the majority they couldn’t be tied up as intended.

HF frequencies used over the years that have been logged by myself and others:

Air to Air

© 2014 Tony Roper.No usage permitted without authors permission

Royal Air Force Tornado ZA404/013 in full afterburner as it departs RAF Lossiemouth in April 2013 on a Joint Warrior mission. Being this close to the runway is very noisy and very hot. Within 6 months, this Tornado had been transferred to RAF Leeming and scrapped, being used for spare parts for the remaining fleet of Tornados

The Air element of the exercise takes place for most of the two weeks with a multitude of tasks being carried out by the Fighters, Transports, Tankers and electronic warfare aircraft. Again, to go through the full amount would take pages of information but I’m sure you can imagine how busy the airwaves can be with such a large amount of aircraft taking part.

In the majority, the Fighters use Tactical Air Direction (TAD) frequencies (most people incorrectly call them Tactical Air Designator frequencies). These are “real time” frequencies used by the Air Defence Network in the UK and there are hundreds of them. The actual frequency is never said on the air with the TAD number (channel number) passed instead – TAD156 for instance. To confuse things even more, in JW the TADS are given other codenames, normally colours (as are the HF frequencies in fact) and these are said over the air too. Of course, if you have the TAD frequencies this isn’t a problem as you can tie the colour up. As it is, there isn’t a definitive list of frequencies officially available, though some are known.

As you can imagine, the chat on the frequencies is busy as fighters intercept others fighters, or transports and such like. It’s interesting listening and hasn’t changed much from when I was in the RAF. Though, I’ve got to say it isn’t as busy as it used to be, mainly down to target datalinking between aircraft. The datalinking means that less information is passed over the radios either between aircraft in a formation, or from E3 AWACS for instance. Data is also transmitted from the ground from the Air Defence networks or mobile forces.

The Hercules transports were kept busy most of the exercise with plenty of paradrops, both human and freight. And there were plenty of Helicopters around from ships, as well as RAF and Army elements. Most of this is carried out on common inter-squadron frequencies, and those of the main RAF Area Control based at Swanwick in Hampshire (Southern England, and also home to the Civil London Area Control Centre).

This year the exercise ended with an “Apocalypse Now” scenario with a mass Helicopter and Hercules assault on a disused airfield, RAF Kinloss. This is far out of my range being about 240 miles away so I wasn’t able to monitor it, but I did catch the Helicopters travelling back and forth from there to West Freugh where a mobile base had been established, West Freugh being about 40 miles to the south of my QTH.

Overall, the exercise normally brings a good build up in radio communications for UK listeners, especially HF. But unfortunately, HF isn’t that popular within the Military listeners of the UK where the majority listen to VHF/UHF frequencies. The funny thing is, they’re probably missing the vast part of the exercise.

Three Tornados of the RAF carry out final checks lined up on the runway during Joint Warrior 12-2 in October 2012. Tornados operate with two crew, Pilot and Navigator/Weapons Officer, and have been in full service in the RAF since 1982 but are now in their final years. They have served the RAF well over this time, taking part in all combat Operations since their initial introduction into service, including Operation Desert Storm where they flew as low as 50 feet at over 500mph (something they do every day over Scotland). Their crews are probably the best Low-Level combat pilots in the World

Three Tornados of the RAF carry out final checks lined up on the runway during Joint Warrior 12-2 in October 2012. Tornados operate with two crew, Pilot and Navigator/Weapons Officer, and have been in full service in the RAF since 1982 but are now in their final years. They have served the RAF well over this time, taking part in all combat Operations since their initial introduction into service, including Operation Desert Storm where they flew as low as 50 feet at over 500mph (something they do every day over Scotland). Their crews are probably the best Low-Level combat pilots in the World

DIY Canon EOS 5D Camera fix

Canon Eos5D(mk1) DIY fix

There I was on a harbour tour of Portsmouth, snapping away at the (large) amount of RN ships docked there at the moment, when my 5D made an awful clunking, grating sound and stopped taking images. Looking through the viewfinder gave me nothing but darkness. After a brief panic, I took the lens off and sitting in it was what looked like the shutter mechanism from the camera. Luckily I also had my 50D with me, so I was able to continue with what I was doing, but as soon as the time became available I took another look at the 5D

As it was, it turned out it wasn’t the full mechanism but just the mirror that had come unstuck, so the thought of huge amounts of money flying on to my credit card stopped as I thought it would be a reasonably cheap fix. I did wonder if the previous weeks wet shoot of HMS Duncan may have been the cause. It had been a wet day, but the camera hadn’t got seriously soaked as I protected it. It was, however, also quite humid, so I think the two weather patterns and the clunking process that shutters have to go through combined to unstick the mirror a little. This final shoot was enough to let the mirror lose it’s grip completely


Back home a few days later and I investigated the price of getting the mirror put back on. I was shocked to find that the price for this repair was ridiculous, prices between $250 and $500 were being quoted by people with the same problem in the USA (I couldn’t find a price in the UK). This was crazy, and I seriously thought that at that price I may as well look for another 5D

But then I thought, well I may as well see if a bit of superglue to the back of the mirror will work. So I Googled to see if others had tried this, and they had, and it had worked

So this is this is the process I carried out to make the DIY fix.

1. Obviously, make sure you’re in a clean area, with as little dust as possible

2. On the back of the mirror is a small black piece of thin plastic, take this away. There’s no need to remember or mark what way round it goes as this is obvious by the holes

3. Cut the end off a cotton-bud

Remove the black plastic and cut off the end of a cotton-bud

Remove the black plastic and cut off the end of a cotton-bud

4. Get the superglue and squeeze some out onto a piece of paper, card or plastic – whatever you have available really. DO NOT squeeze superglue directly onto the small pads on the back of the mirror, we all know that superglue has a mind of its own and is hard to control in small amounts

5. Take the cut end of the cotton-bud, scoop up a small amount of glue and dab it onto one of the small pads on the mirror – you don’t need too much. Repeat this for the other three pads, but do it fairly quickly before the glue can dry

6. Return the black plastic to back of the mirror

7. Look at the shutter mechanism of the 5D and note the correct way round the mirror should go by the position of the indents for the pads

8. Gently place the mirror on the shutter mechanism, applying only a small amount of pressure

Mirror fixed back in place. Now let the glue dry followed by a clean

Mirror fixed back in place – now let the glue dry followed by a clean

9. Close up the camera with the lens cap and leave it for a few hours to dry properly

10. After a few hours, test to make sure the camera works correctly and the mirror stays in place

11. Give the mirror a clean as its bound to have some fingerprints on it

This took me about 5 minutes, and cost the price of one cotton bud and a tube of superglue – both of which I had already

Cross Country Wireless HF/VHF/UHF Multicoupler

With the total rebuild of the radio-shack looming I’d been investigating on a Multicoupler for my VHF/UHF radios. My homebuilt antenna connected to my Bearcat UBC-800XLT is far better than the bought Vertical Antenna that is connected to my Icom IC-R8500 so I wanted to remove the vertical antenna (using the co-ax for a homebuilt AIS antenna I’ve been testing in a different location) and use the Bearcat antenna on multiple radios

I’d found a few Multicouplers that suited, but after a discussion on MilCom about different ones, and a recommendation on one of my choices, I decided to go for the Cross Country Wireless HF/VHF/UHF Multicoupler multicoupler

I wasn’t the only one as I know at least one other member of MilCom made the same choice

There was a slight delay in delivery as Chris, the owner of CCW, was away on holiday. But as the units are made to order this wasn’t a problem to me at all

When the Multicoupler arrived I put it to use immediately and was very pleased with the results. It does have to be powered by a 12V adaptor and I had one of these spare, it can go down to 7V I believe, but either way power is required or you’ll get nothing. I ran the Multicoupler with the two radios, and even added my UBC-3500XLT to it too, with no loss at all. Very happy indeed.

However, a problem did arise. For some reason, reception would drop off over time. A quick chat with Chris bought about the probability that it was the power unit as he tests everything before sending out. Using another power supply the problem was fixed – initially. After a few days the same happened again, with great reception at first but then a drop. The power supplies I used were of the same make, so I queried it with Chris and he told me of a supply they have available that doesn’t seem to have any problems at all. So I purchased this too, and a few days later it arrived

Since then I’ve had no problems at all, and I am very pleased with it. I have only used it for VHF/UHF, not HF, so I can’t give any critique on its performance in this area

Temporary placement of the Multicoupler for testing

Temporary placement of the Multicoupler for testing

The HF/VHF/UHF Multicoupler is priced at £119.95 plus shipping (£8 in the UK I believe)
The 12V power supply is £20 including postage to the UK

Further details and specifications are available on the CCW website

The Spectrum Monitor articles and the MilCom Forum

I’m pleased to say that I’ve had two articles published in the July edition of e-Mag The Spectrum Monitor

The first article is about the Joint Warrior exercise that took place in March/April this year, and how and what to listen out for when these exercises take place twice a year in the UK. I wasn’t expecting this article to be published until September so this was an added bonus this month

The second article is about how I got into listening to Air Traffic Control and how this then took me down the road to becoming an Air Traffic Controller, an aviation/military photographer and writer, and into monitoring the radios in general – in particular HF

As well as the articles, there’s about 11 photos of mine included alongside. I also provided the cover image.tsmcover

The magazine is available either to buy individually at $3 each or by subscription for $24 for one year. Either way the magazine is well worth the money

MilCom Forum

About a month ago now, a new forum was created for the Military Monitoring enthusiast – MilCom

The main aim of the forum is bring together those of us that are interested in monitoring Military Communications, be it VHF/UHF, HF, CW, data, SATCOM etc. The posting of radio logs is actively encouraged. In just a month the membership has passed 110 with posts already at 850+; and this is without any real advertising of the forum. One thing you’ll notice if you head over, is that it isn’t just about Aviation. The forum covers all areas of Military Communications – Aviation, Maritime and Land (Space too if you really want to)

As well as the forum area there is a database section which contains information on Military Callsigns, VHF/UHF frequencies, HF frequencies and other things such as common abbreviations and terms used by the Military. There’s also an interactive map. These databases are updated almost daily by a team of us, and can also have anything missing submitted to the team for addition once confirmed. The databases are continually growing, are more accurate than any printed publication (which is generally out of date the day of printing) and more importantly – FREE

The only proviso to this data being available is that members participate in the forum and do not just “lurk”. The membership is continually monitored by the team and trimmed if necessary. That being said, we are a friendly group so don’t let the rules put you off – instead join up and participate.

2 B2 or not 2 B2

Whilst most of the UK were running around chasing B-52s and B-2s that were flying out of Fairford, more on which later, the USAF and USN over in the States were preparing for yet another large combined exercise involving multiple assets, including more B-52s and B-2s, as well as E-6s and KC-135s

Early heads up that something was going to take place was given when various airspace reservations were spotted by “Magnum” on the USAFs own NOTAM website. This was re-enforced when four KC-135s were positioned in Nova Scotia on the 10th of June

Sure enough, as predicted, on the afternoon of the 11th 11175kHz of the HF-GCS network started to come alive with calls from various assets involved in the exercise

I was preoccupied for the first few hours, but plenty of calls were coming through and picked up by the small group of us that regularly follow these missions. A couple of us do live in the USA so follow the action with their own gear, but in the majority Live ATC is a necessity for us in Europe; that is until a bit later and conditions let us follow the aircraft that are the furthest east

At around 1830z a long EAM (Emergency Action Message) of 147 characters was sent by GOALPOST, an E-6B operating over the USA:


This is significantly longer than the standard EAMs of 30 characters, and this EAM was repeated on quite few occasions over the next hour or so

By 1900z the callsign tally was quite large:
SPURxx KC135s
NARESxx KC135s
BEAKxx B2s

The operating areas of these flights had been pretty much worked out by those monitoring too, but I’ll leave those out except for one portion a bit later on

The sheer number of messages, such as the 4 group status messages used by the B2s in previous missions I’ve mentioned, and EAMs were overwhelming. There were so many they were stepping all over each other making it nigh on impossible to make them all out. It does make you wonder just how things would pan out should this all happen for real

Saying that though, the Russian CW networks I also listen too aren’t any better and do exactly the same thing.

I joined the action properly at around 2130z when I got a SkyKing message using my WinRadio Excalibur on 11175kHz. With the way the bandwidth was set up with the Excalibur I could see that Gander on 11279kHz was coming in strong which gave me hope that conditions would be good enough to pick some of the exercise up on 11175. I decided to set one of the other channels available on Gander as it’s always interesting listening to them sometimes

As it was, whilst monitoring 11175, I saw a really strong signal come in on Gander so I changed channels quickly and heard what I thought was SPEED20 calling with a position report. There was a distinct burn to the background call which showed it as a military flight.

A quick check through my old notes showed SPEED as a 97AMW callsign so I thought this would be one of the tankers. But, one of the US monitors then said he’d not heard a tanker using SPEED before, which made me doubt the call. Magnum then queried whether it may have been BEAK20 so I waited until the next position report about 20 mins later to confirm. It was indeed BEAK20, probably a B-2A from Whiteman AFB. The two B-2s were not that far from the boundary between Gander and Shanwick, and were now heading south

Route over the Atlantic by BEAK20/21

Route over the Atlantic by BEAK20/21

A bit of further delving through my old bits of papers that I call logs showed that I’d written down SPEED as a 97BW callsign in the early 90s. I’d tie this down to the fact that the 97th flew B-52s to Fairford for Desert Storm, and I visited the base then on a few occasions whilst stationed at Lyneham. Obviously, when the 97th transitioned to their new role of transports and tankers from Altus AFB, I’d just copied over the callsigns

As I’d not picked up much on 11175 on my own gear I decided to make Gander my primary on the Excalibur with 11175 on channel 2, along with 11175 on my Icom IC-R8500; and just to top that off, have Live ATC going on the PC too. It takes a lot of effort to listen to all this at once especially when there’s a time lag through Live ATC; it makes logging it all very difficult – I still feel like I’m cheating when listening to alive ATC too

Another position report followed with Gander telling BEAK20 to switch to 8891 as the new primary frequency. I followed them over as I was getting a good plot of their route using Skyvector. Again, with the bandwidth setup that I use on the Excalibur I was able to see other surrounding frequencies, and I noted that the Russian network on 8847kHz was also very busy. A quick listen showed these to be transports, but I was busy elsewhere so dumped the freq

I followed BEAK20 back to the Canadian domestic airspace at waypoint ELSIR, but before that at 2350z he asked Gander if they could go off frequency at midnight Zulu to monitor 11175 for approx 10 minutes. Gander said standby but never did get back to them, well not that I heard

At 0010z a new EAM was sent, this time by new callsign and an E-6B, OUTCROP. The Pool callsigns for the E-6s always change at midnight Zulu, so we were to expect a few new ones in the next half an hour or so, another one being LEGALITY.

With BEAK20 pretty much being back on Canadian domestic I was back to 11175 on the Excalibur and OUTCROP was quite clearly audible on it, whilst LEGALITY wasn’t.

Things had really started picking up again, with lots of stepped on calls again as everyone came back up on frequency, a pattern that is common with these – busy (all checking in) – quiet (flying the mission) – busy (checking back in). A couple of new callsigns also followed along with new groups of EAMs

This continued on for the next few hours, with myself calling it a day around 0130z when it had mostly died down. The final callsign list for the night was:

SPURxx KC135s
NARESxx KC135s
BEAKxx B2s
GLUExx ?
HALLxx ?
SUMACxx KC135s
HISTO possibly B52s

The last group of E6s were the same ones as earlier but have the midnight callsign change

Interestingly, a new NOTAM has been published that covers at least the next week, and the same airspace as used for this exercise. Is this to be a bigger and better one?

UK B-2s and B-52s

As I mentioned earlier, 2 B-2s and 3 B-52s have deployed to the UK for two exercises; SaberStrike for the B-52s and a FAMEX(Familiarisation Exercise) for the B-2s. They have caused nothing but what I would call a “boy band” over excitement from the UK aviation enthusiasts (of which I am one, though I’ve not got that excited)

It is great to see them over here again, and I did manage a glimpse of two B-52s as they left the Turnberry VOR tracking NW, but the commotion and excitement they have caused is amazing. Maybe I got too used to them 20 years ago (the B-52s) and I’ve seen a few B-2s in the USA so maybe I’ve been nulled by that.

As I live a good 300 miles away from Fairford, and with a holiday during the same period, I was never really going to see them, but I thought the radio may be a bit interesting. In the end it wasn’t. Daily round-robin tours of the UK for training purposes gave mainly route information. The B-2s tended to fly as singletons, but the B-52s did fly in pairs so there was some inter-plane chat between them – at the time of going on holiday this was on
226.875MHz and 300.125MHz

One of the routes flown as plotted by Chris Globe

One of the routes flown as plotted by Chris Globe

With the flights there seemed to be a regular pattern of one in the morning, one in the afternoon (of both types); and after a while it was noticeable that they used the same waypoints or FRDs (fix/radial/distance) but maybe in a different order. After two days, once they were used to being here, air to air refuelling also was incorporated into the missions with 100ARW from RAF Mildenhall

Callsigns used for the UK flights were:

EXULT11-13 B-52s on the 7th for flights from USA to Fairford
CORE11/12 B-52 UK flights
DOOM11/12 B-52 UK flights
DOOM20 B-52 UK flights
DEATH11/12 B-2 for flights from USA to Fairford
SPIRIT01/02 B-2UK flights
SPIRIT11 B-2 UK flights
ICOSA11/12 B-2 flight to Ascension

At the time of this blog the B-52s are yet to take part in Exercise SaberStrike except for one fly past at the beginning of the exercise

As I’ve said, I went away on holiday so missed some of it, but on the 11th the B-2s made a trip to Ascension Island (where I was posted to in the 90s) as ICOSA11/12 flight and they were monitored again by the small group of us. They were met by four to six KC135s that flew from Lajes in the Azores. This was part of an Out-of-Area operation to prove they can carry out Global Power flights outside of operating from Whiteman AFB

Although I believe they were due to land at Ascension, they didn’t and they returned to Fairford that night following a very long mission

Let’s hope these exercises are repeated next year, and maybe I’ll be able to head down to Fairford to see them

Logs from CONUS exercise:




1842z NARES42 calls SkyMaster, no response


2128z SkyKing PP3 T28 Auth RJ

Gander 11279

2220z BEAK20 (B-2A)
5442N 38W @ 2200 FL250
Est 5448N 3338W @ 2220
5245N 3339W next

2225z BEAK20
5448N 3338W @ 2220
Est 5245N 3339W @2238
5012N 3340W next
asked by Gander to do a radio check on 8891, then told that this was the new primary. 5616 is back up

Gander 8891

2240z BEAK20
5245N 3339W @ 2239 FL250
est 5012N 3340W @ 2301
5018N 38W next

2300z BEAK20
5012N 3340W @ 2259 FL250
est 5018N 38W @ 2324
5015N 42W next, Req FL280 (approved at 2304)

2323z BEAK20
5018N 38W @ 2324 (note being sent before this time) FL280
est 5015N 42W @ 2342
5007N 45W next

2345z BEAK20
5015N 42W @ 2342 FL280
est 5007N 45W @ 2359
50N 50W next

2351z beak20 Requesting to go off freq at midnight to monitor 11175


Gander 8891

0002z BEAK20
5007N 45W @ 2359 FL280
est 50N 50W @ 0023
ELSIR next

At 50W call Gander on 122.375




0015 BEAK21 1msg 4grps TL5T


0020z SPUR44 1 msg 4 grps 1YCK



0035z HALL33 1msg 4grps KIW2

0039z SPUR23 calling





0045z SUMAC24 1msg 4grps TPUW








0107z BEAK20 1msg 4grps HG2W

0109z DOOM92 with REDRIVER radio check


0116z BURNT15 1msg 4grps 6SX6 (only OUTCROP heard)

0120Z SUMAC42 1msg 4grps YUWI (only OUTCROP heard)

All information, callsigns and data has no connection to my employers and is obtained from my own radio logs, personal knowledge and public information

Global Lightning

On the night of the 14th into the morning of the 15th of May there was another exercise involving B-2A bombers transitting the Atlantic and returning to the USA following an Air to Air refuel with two KC-135Rs from Mildenhall. Also involved again was an E-6B operating out of Stuttgart

I’ve covered this type of operation previously in this blog which goes into detail how things happen, and this can be found here to recap on

There were two changes to the usual though. Firstly, the B-2 status messages (made every 15 minutes) had a slight word change, using “items” instead of “groups”; and secondly, and more significant was where the E-6 operated.

There had been the usual NOTAM in adavnce of this exercise which had the standard operating area of the E-6 out over the Atlantic, and this is where it was expected to transit to. E6However, on getting airborne it went NE from Stuttgart and settled over an area near Rostock in Germany. Whether this was some sort of show to Moscow, I guess we’ll never know but it does seem likely, especially with the Baltic Fleet homeport at Baltyisk not too far away

Anyway, on to the the log for the night.

Main Callsigns involved:
FOWL11/12 = 2 B-2A
MERCATOR = E-6B likely to be the one over Rostok
SALESMAN = E-6B Rostock E-6B, callsign change at midnight Zulu
CALAMINE = E-6B LANT/CONUS flight, callsign change at midnight Zulu
QUID90/91 = KC-135R flight from Mildenhall

All other calls from MainSail unless otherwise stated

11175[on Live ATC]

1647z STRATEGY with request to Mainsail

1648z ETHAN28 with radio check






1903z Diego Garcia with test count

2105z FOWL12 calls SkyMaster with 1 Msg 4 groups V3JM

2107z SkyKing BTL T07 Auth 00

2112z SkyKing 6OL T12 Auth FM

2120z FOWL11 to SkyMaster 1msg 4items 9J93

2130z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2134z FOWL11 flight
44N30W @ 2133
Est 44N2230W @ 2208
44N22W next

2135z FOWL11 to route 44N22W after 44N2230W

2150z FOWL flight to route KOPAS 36N13W 36N18W 33N20W from Santa Maria


2150z FOWL11 1msg 4items 6JPN

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2154z QUID90 calls for 44N22W ALTRV clearance

2159z clearance approved

2217z FOWL11 flight
44N22W @ 2217 block 260/270
Est 44N13W @ 2325
36N18W next

2220z QUID90 flight
44N22W @2219z Block 280/290
est 44N20W @ 2321z
44N15W next
In contact with FOWL flight, req MARSA and block 260/290 for refuel

2228z Quid90 informs SM they will be off HF for 30 mins for refuel


2230z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2202z MERCATOR calls Mainsail for r/c

2205z FOWL12 1msg 4items MG52

2210z NORMANDY standing by for traffic (very weak – TACLANT)

2220z FOWL11 1msg 4items 7FR7

2230z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2240z NORMANDY standing by for traffic (very weak – TACLANT)

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2249z Quid90 flight
44N20W @ 2233
est 44N15W @ 2310
44N13W next
block 260/290


2250z FOWL11 1msg 4 items VKGT
FOWL12 1msg 4items U1VO

2257z SPAR781 calls Mainsail for r/c

2300z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2300z RCH155 calls Andrews for r/c

2305z FOWL12 1msg 4items 06T6

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2305z SM is asking FOWL11 for its route after KOPAS:


2310z NORMANDY standing by for traffic

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2313z Quid90 calls SM, refuel complete, est KOPAS 2321
SM asks Quid90 to confirm Quid91 eta for KOPAS. Has to explain to SM that they are all together and will get there at the same time!!


2320z FOWL11 1msg 4items SS7U

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2323z Quid90 flight
KOPAS @ 2322 FL280/290
Est TAKAS 2331
ETIKI next

SM gives reroute KOPAS dct REGHI FPL route


2324z FOWL12 calls SkyMaster for any Message traffic
No message tfc at this time

2330z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2335z FOWL12 1msg 4items 1Q4K


2353z E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG (possibly FOWL in background)


0006z FOWL12 1msg 4items RFKR

0007z CALAMINE standing by for traffic


0012z SALESMAN standing by for traffic

0027z TINHORN calls Mainsail for systems test


0036z FOWL12 1 msg 4items E0TH

0039z Open mike from one of the E6s


0041z SALESMAN standing by for traffic

0049z FOWL11 1msg 4items AILK


0104z FOWL12 1msg 4items P8UE


0114z SALESMAN sends E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG (lots of background noise)

0117z SALESMAN sends E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K (but on first transmission after preambles, starts at TV2H etc)

0119z FOWL11 1msg 4items OO1C


0134z FOWL12 1msg 4items IUB6 – disregard – 3Y16

0140z SALESMAN sends E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K, more follows standby

0150z FOWL11 1msg 4items H5ZX


0206z FOWL12 1msg 4items IUBI

0219z FOWL11 1msg 4items XNB1

0229z 0159z E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K

0235z FOWL12 1msg 4items K5GT

0240z SALESMAN sends E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K, more follows standby

0249z FOWL11 1msg 4items DABJ



0309z SALESMAN sends E56OYP – D7Y5WI4F7XKJMBBCV7BNVAG6, more follows standby
E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K, more follows standby

0326z SALESMAN standing by for traffic

0329z 0304z E56OYP – D7Y5WI4F7XKJMBBCV7BNVAG6

0339z SALESMAN sends E56OYP – D7Y5WI4F7XKJMBBCV7BNVAG6 (background calls of SKYMASTER to other station)

0353z SkyKing PFF T53 Auth DS

No further calls were received after this. Another busy night, shame there’s not more of them

All information, callsigns and data has no connection to my employers and is obtained from my own radio logs, personal knowledge and public information